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Literature / Pathfinder (2010)

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Pathfinder is a 2010 fantasy/sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card. There are two parallel stories: The main plot concerns Rigg, a boy with the ability to see "paths" left behind by all living creatures when they move, and how he gets caught up in a political struggle for the fate of the known world. The second story deals with Ram, the pilot on a colony ship heading out from Earth to colonize a new world, equipped with an experimental hyperdrive, and his interactions with the ship's computers and the Expendables, a group of androids that interface with the computers and serve as advisers.

Fairly early on Rigg learns that he's not the only one with unusual powers, and that there's a way to use his ability to not only see the course of people and other life from the past, but to interact with them and change the past as well. So of course many Time Travel Tropes get used, though the author's note explains that he wanted to "embrace" paradox rather than avoiding it, so expect to see the Time Travel Tropes get played with.


A sequel, Ruins, and a third book Visitors were released later. Beware. This is an Orson Scott Card book, and so of course the plot gets very twisty. Even reading the trope example names could result in spoilage.

Totally unrelated to either film of the same name,, the series of role-playing game manuals, or a 2018 CRPG based on them.

Pathfinder contains examples of:

  • Achilles' Heel / Attack Its Weak Point: The queen's daughter, Param, can jump forward in time causing her to be invisible if she does it fast enough although this has the side effect of reduced aging. This lets her pass through walls, but the denser the object the more harder and painful it is. Thus the queen tries to capture her by sending soldiers swinging iron poles, which would hurt her too much to pass through. So not cool!
  • Affably Evil: The queen, very much so. General Citizen has a bit of this vibe to him at first too.
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  • Ancient Artifact: Turns out one of the gems Rigg's father gives him was a long-lost symbol of authority taken from an ancient royal crown, considered to be more legend than reality. Also, it turns out that all nineteen of the gems date back to the colonization of Garden and are the key to disabling the Walls.
  • Artificial Human: The Expendables.
  • Bullet Time: No actual bullets, but Umbo has the power to make people's perception of time speed up or slow down.
  • Cloning Blues: Ram's psychic abilities interfered with his starship's travel through hyperspace, causing it jump backwards in time 19 times and thus create 18 identical copies of itself. Each of these identical ships end up becoming their own colony, separated by the Wall...but on the other hand, immediately after the cloning, the 'real' Ram ordered all his clones killed so that the computers and expendables would only have to listen to one captain.
  • Colony Drop: A manmade extinction event to wipe out incompatible native life so that Earth life could be seeded on Garden was planned as a part of the colonization process from the beginning. They didn't tell the colonists, to sidestep moral objections.
  • The Cretaceous Is Always Doomed: Justified. Rigg can travel back in time by identifying the "path" of a living thing that had walked the land before. In a moment of urgency he picks the most recent path of an extinct animal he sees, which turns out to be fleeing the Colony Drop that rendered it extinct.
  • Five-Man Band: Deconstructed anyway:
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Rigg and Umbo, according to a line by Loaf.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Rigg's father dies in the first chapter of the book when a tree falls on him. Or not. He lied.
  • Disney Death: Rigg's adoptive father.
  • Expy: The character of Rigg bears a strong resemblance to Ender Wiggin, due to their precocious intelligence and snarkiness.
  • Fluorescent Footprints: Rigg's power of tracking "paths". When combined with Umbo's power of speeding up one's brain, he realizes the paths he sees are actually the people of the past speedily walking by.
  • Force Field Cage: The Wallfold that surrounds the known world is made up of an invisible force field-like Wall that doesn't physically prevent you from entering, but does fill any living being's mind with overwhelming dread if they don't turn back, eventually driving those who try to cross insane.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Ram, the pilot of the colony ship, had psychic abilities that were passed down to his descendants. As such, one of the 19 colonies on Garden has people who develop time-manipulation abilities like his.
  • I Am Who?: Poor Rigg. His dad never told him he was the son of the deposed empress, or what the political ramifications of making that known would be.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Averted and discussed in the colony ship subplot.
  • Parental Abandonment: The story starts off with Rigg's father, who had raised him alone his entire life, dying when a tree falls on him. He lied so that Rigg would have to head to the capital.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: The People's Revolution has some elements of this.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Loaf plays this role for a lot of the story.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: The Expendables including Rigg's adoptive father.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: This happens to Rigg when he changes the past. Other people's memories change, but his doesn't. This can be inconvenient at times, if a change he made altered history and he's not familiar with the influences it had on modern culture.
  • Signature Style: It's an Orson Scott Card book. Expect plenty of snarkiness from precocious children. Also, at the beginning of each chapter except the first is a short "header" telling a part of a side story.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: Pops up all over the place.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Trying to keep all the time travel straight gives the characters who were involved a headache. It can be even worse for the reader.
  • World of Snark